Sunday, June 25, 2017

Frog In Boiling Water

When your weekend long run consists of 7 miles you know it's taper time!

When the coach told me last week to bin all workouts and keep the length of all runs to 7 miles I suspected that he merely took the lowest possible mileage he thought I would accept without revolting rather than base it on any physiological data. Anyway, I stuck to that.

7 easy miles on Monday home from work.

7 easy miles on Tuesday into work.

7 easy miles on Wednesday home from work.

7 easy miles on Thursday into work.

7 easy miles on Friday around some swanky parts of South Dublin.

On Saturday I was back home in Kerry. I was looking forward to running along the lake again but changed that and did one more heat adaptation run. Technically it was my only heat adaptation run this time round but with the high temperatures for the week before I think I must have gotten some adaptation from that as well. Anyway, after checking my own blog on how to do it I wrapped myself in 4 layers (long-sleeved shirt, cotton t-shirt, fleece jacket, running jacket), donned hat and gloves, and put myself onto the treadmill with the window closed and a podcast in my ear. I chose the treadmill as it's safer than the road when you're wrapped up like that and since I easily tend to overheat on the treadmill anyway it makes it practical for such a workout. I started out very easy and set the pace to 6 mph - 10 minute miles. That was as slow as I could go while still feeling comfortable, though I am aware that it's still faster than what I will be doing in Belfast next week. I soon got hot and I did 50 minutes of that, slowly steaming myself. The heat inside my layers rose steadily but almost imperceptibly. I found the HR graph afterward very interesting, rising almost linearly from below 100 at the start to 150 at the end, apart from one, er, technical glitch a few minutes in. I ran as easily as possible, the treadmill made sure the pace was completely constant, and I was never aware that the HR was rising at all.

I stepped off after 50 minutes, trying not to stress myself too much with a week to go to race day. The leg muscles probably didn't even know this had been a run at all.

Sunday was more conventional, 7 miles along the lake. Actually I had planned to run only 6 but sailed past the 3-mile point, my mind too far tuned out to realise, so I ended up with 7 out of pure habit. Again, I ran as easily as I could without feeling uncomfortable. It was a tad faster than on the treadmill but still slow enough to fall into some sort of shuffling style. I'll be doing a lot of that next week!

I'm not 100% sure what kind of shape I'm in when it comes to running for 24 hours, but the numbers sure look a lot better than before Albi. Back then the last run had been 10 beats higher for a similar pace as today, and the one before that had been 45 seconds per mile slower for a higher HR - I guess I'll gladly take today's numbers.

22 Jun
7 miles, 55:57, 8:00 pace, HR 141
23 Jun
7 miles, 55:06, 7:52 pace, HR 143
24 Jun
5 miles, 50:00, 10:00 pace, HR 126
   heat adaptation run
25 Jun
7 miles, 1:01:34, 8:47 pace, HR 129

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Happy Solstice

APOD
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170621.html
For once, solstice actually seems to coincide with some proper summer weather here in Ireland, if you ignore the rain this morning, that is. We're getting some actual heat training done here, with the temperatures predicted to hit 28 degrees in Dublin today (20 in Kerry - ah well, I've left that behind), though when I was running home from work at 6 pm it definitely wasn't quite as got as that. The humidity made up for any shortfall, though. However, that's apparently the last of it, from tomorrow it's back to the usual grey skies. Sneaking a quick preview at the forecast for race day, in full knowledge that they haven't got a clue what the weather really will be like in 10 days' time, it will still be back to normal, clouds with the occasional rain shower. Actually, that would do me just fine.

Following last week's late hard push, this week is all about recovery, and a full one at that. The coach took one look at my recovery and cancelled any further workouts, including the taper workout for next week. I think that suits me fine because I messed up that very workout when I did it as a test before Cork, and I'd rather not go into Belfast with already fatigued legs. Since Albi I know what's it like to start a 24 hours run on already tired legs and I'd rather not repeat that experience.

So, it's all short and it's all easy running, a fairly radical taper. I haven't gone completely mad yet due to lack of exercise and endorphin withdrawal; at least I haven't noticed it yet.
19 Jun
7 miles, 56:26, 8:03 pace, HR 139
20 Jun
7 miles, 57:14, 8:10 pace, HR 135
21 Jun
7 miles, 56:56, 8:06 pace, HR 144

Sunday, June 18, 2017

One Last Big Effort

Usually I would have started to take it easy by now. While I never quite managed to figure out the ideal length of a taper, a 24 hours race seems to call for a longer taper, but maybe it just doesn't quite work like that. The coach definitely had other ideas - I've had quite some week,

Having gotten through Wednesday's alternating loops in very good shape I took it very easy for the next 2 days. In the olden days I used to push the pace a little bit even on my easy days, basically always trying to run under 8-minute miles, but at some stage I must have grown up a bit and now I no longer care. Easy days are just that, very easy running without ever looking at the watch.

I still wasn't quite sure if I was ready for another workout on Saturday morning but decided to give it a good go. The schedule asked for the second pickups workout. The previous one, 3 weeks ago, had gone very well but now the coach turned the screw further and this was going to be tougher: half miles at fast pace interspersed with miles at 7:20 pace.

Right from the start, 7:20 pace felt aggressive, and of course it didn't help that I had run the first half mile faster than I should have. I did wonder straight away how long I was going to last. It also didn't help that it was already quite warm - it's over 20 degrees right now even in Kerry, which counts as a heat wave by local standards, Not that I'm complaining - but it didn't make that workout any easier.

Anyway, running this in Kerry meant I didn't have the very convenient half mile loop in the park at my disposal, which meant I was looking at the watch a lot more often, which subsequently meant I wasn't pacing myself off effort as much as I would have liked. But even in cooler temperatures and in the park, 7:20 would still have been an aggressive "recovery" pace and it would always have been a challenging workout.

6:27 / 7:21 / 6:36 / 7:23 / 6:49 / 7:19 / 6:44 / 7:22 / 6:28 / 7:17 / 6:36 / 7:27 and bailed after 0.2

I lasted for 6 segments. The sixth was already a bit compromised as I tried for another 6:30 but that was just that little bit too hard. After that, I tried to get back to 7:20 for recovery but realised very soon that I was cooked and pulled the plug. I could have pushed on further with some big effort but 2 weeks from the race that would have been counter-productive; if anything I should have bailed 1 repeat earlier because you should always end a workout with 1 still left in the tank.

Afterwards (and only afterwards) the coach told me that this had been a real redline workout, as hard as any he would ever give me.

And with that, I am definitely in my taper. The madness is about to start.
15 Jun
6.2 miles, 50:01, 8:04 pace, HR 139
16 Jun
8 miles, 1:06:38, 8:19 pace, HR 136
17 Jun
12 miles, 1:29:38, 7:28 pace, HR 156
   6:27 / 7:21 / 6:36 / 7:23 / 6:49 / 7:19 / 6:44 / 7:22 / 6:28 / 7:17 / 6:36 / 7:27 and bailed after 0.2
18 Jun
7 miles, 58:30, 8:20 pace, HR 134

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Working Through Recovery

My honest opinion is you are digging that hole again Thomas, why the hell you did that hill workout and what i consider a heavy week post a full hard marathon i do not know
Thanks for your comment, Keith.

The reason I ran up a hill on Saturday is that I always felt I recover very quickly from those kind of runs, much faster than from a road workout, which is exactly what I wanted. As for digging myself into a hole, I sure have previous on that so I definitely won't dismiss it. But right now I'm trusting my coach not to let that happen. One thing that speaks against the hole theory is that my numbers are improving rapidly again, getting close to the best numbers I have posted in this training cycle. In contrast, last autumn they were consistently dire.

I did a couple of easy runs at the start of the week, in fact we added one extra easy day compared to the original schedule. They both went well and the numbers looked pretty damn good, though I can still feel some tightness in my glutes, which I think is still a residue of the marathon (hills I would expect to affect mostly the calves (uphill) or quads (downhill)).

On Wednesday morning I had the next workout on the program. I ran this in the park close to home, not during a commute. On the plan was laps in the park, fast laps alternating with jogging laps.

I did 1 mile of warm up and needed the first 2 fast laps to feel fully warmed up. I kept feeling a bit slow all the while but tried to concentrate on turning over the legs quickly rather than work myself into the ground. My glutes still felt tight but didn’t get any worse as the miles kept ticking by very quickly.

6:48, 6:46, 6:35, 6:33, 6:40, 6:40, 6:37 - 6:40, 6:42, 6:42 - 6:33, 6:20, 6:23 (6:37 avg)

I tried to increase the pace after 7 but it doesn’t show up in the numbers. I upped the effort once more after 10, which DID show some improvements. Throughout the workout I felt I just could not go any faster but I always felt that I could run plenty more of those laps, so I added a 13th one at the end (the plan had been 12), partially to make up for what I perceived as slow pace, partially because I had plenty left in the tank (indeed, I still could have gone on for at least one more).

Normally I would have balked at the idea of 31 laps in the local park, but alternating fast and slow laps made this surprisingly easy to bear.  Looking at my race history you might think that running little loops for hours would be something I like doing but in fact I usually hate it in a training run. It is entirely different in a race setting, though.

The cool down lasted until I had done 15 miles. Right at the end I finally started to feel tired, which may have been more in the head than the legs. Oh, and somehow I had managed to misplace my HRM chest strap since yesterday and haven't got any HR data for that workout. Ah well.
12 Jun
5.5 miles, 45:35, 8:17 pace, HR 137
13 Jun
5.5 miles, 43:29, 7:54 pace, HR 137
14 Jun
15 miles, 1:57:26, 7:49 pace
   13 half miles @ 6:37 pace avg.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Recovery Shortfall

I used to have recovery from those training marathons dialled in to a T. Five miles a day to start with, listening to the body, then increase the mileage to 8 when it feels right and after a week or so I'd be fresh as rain again.

Whatever happened in the meantime, something has gotten out of whack. The move to Dublin has thrown a few challenges my way and I just don't have the 5 mile route through the woods to Ard-na-Sidhe any more, though I don't think that's the main issue. I suspect I'm still feeling the after-effects of my overtraining from last year, and the one thing that seems to be affected more than anything else is recovery.

It may be age catching up with me as well of course, I'm not far off 50, which doesn't help. But somehow I seem to have lost that fine tuned sense of what I can do after a marathon and still recover.

Initially, recovery started out pretty well.Until Wednesday I was very pleased with how things went. Thursday morning was the first wobble but all was good again in the evening. By Friday, however, the legs seem to have suffered a bad setback. Maybe they didn't like the fact that I ran twice on Thursday. Driving back home to Kerry that evening was rather uncomfortable once more (not as bad as last week, though).

In Cork I had felt the need to strengthen the legs, and the way to do that is to run up long steep hills. I do have some hills in Dublin, the mountains aren't that far off Stillorgan, but as I was in Kerry anyway I headed up on the far more familiar route to Windy Gap. It was a rather stormy day and the legs weren't in best shape, so I took it very, very easy. Of course, taking it easy is a relative term when you're running up a 20% slope on a stony track. The original idea was to drop down to Glenbeigh and tackle the Gap a second time but with my compromised legs I figured I had pushed my luck more than was advisable as it was and headed back home after just one climb.

Why did I run up a mountain when the legs wee already tired? I have found in the past that while hill running feels very tough when you're doing it, it seems to take much less out of the legs than a comparable effort on a road run; recovery has always been very swift, so I figured I could risk it. In fact, I was toying with the idea of heading up for a second time on Sunday morning but then the legs didn't feel quite right and I settled for a very easy jog along the lake instead.

The legs aren't feeling particularly great but the numbers since Cork are actually encouraging. The HR has seen a remarkable drop for any given effort, finally picking up again after sliding backwards since the end of April. Unfortunately, Belfast is only 3 weeks away, which will be too soon for me, but it is what it is.

9 Jun
8 miles, 1:07:40, 8:26 pace, HR 139
10 Jun
10.7 miles, 1:41:43, 9:30 pace, HR 143
   Windy Gap
11 Jun
8 miles, 1:07:56, 8:28 pace, HR 133

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Marathon Recovery

After having a few days to think about it I have concluded that I had messed up last week. I did a taper workout 4 days before the marathon, which included 3 half mile repeats. I ran them too hard, at least the final 2. I was pretty much wiped out afterwards, much in contrast to the pickup workout the previous weekend when I easily could have done more. The legs felt pretty bad the next few days, not when running but when sitting! It made the drive to Kerry on Friday evening seriously uncomfortable. I'm absolutely sure those hills in Cork would have been much less of an issue had I run those repeats just 5 or 10 seconds slower.

Obviously, I have been taking it easy the last few days since the marathon, running-wise that is (work-wise is very very busy, but I love it).

The day after the marathon I was in Castlecove, surrounded by a lot of very hungover friends and family, the look of whom made me glad that I don't drink any more. However, I had one problem: there were no obvious running routes, at least not for road running. The options were 1) the main Ring of Kerry road, 2) some minor local cul-de-sacs, most of them short and all of them very hilly. I really did not fancy the main road and anyway, it wasn't exactly flat either, so a minor local road it would be. One of them happened to go to Staigue Fort, an ancient ring fort, so I decided to combine running and sight seeing. The fort is high up the hills, so it wasn't the most obvious choice for a recovery run the day after a marathon but the location is truly spectacular. I didn't hang around for too long, however, as it started to rain and I was getting cold quickly.

I was pleased how well the legs felt. They were a little bit stiff but the marathon did not seem to have left much of an impression. However, I still made sure to take it exceptionally easy every time I ran.

Funnily enough, the legs felt reasonably ok on the drive to Dublin on Monday evening. That means I had fresher legs the day after a marathon than before - now that's a first!

The running on the following days was just commuting, first alternating running and cycling and then just running on Thursday. The legs felt close to recovered on Wednesday but to my dismay were worse again on Thursday morning (no idea why!). Then again, all it took was 10 hours in the office and they were much better on the evening run back home

All in all I seem to have recovered very, very well. Since the coach states that the way you recover from a workout says more about your conditioning than how the workout itself went, I take this as a very good sign.
5 Jun
5.8 miles, 55:29, 9:33 pace, HR 132
6 Jun
5.35 miles, 44:58, 8:24 pace, HR 135
7 Jun
5.5 miles, 46:00, 8:21 pace, HR 136
8 Jun
am: 5.5 miles, 45:51, 8:20 pace, HR 134
pm: 5.5 miles, 45:13, 8:13 pace, HR 137

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Yes I DO

Running the Cork marathon this year required a bit more logistics than usual. It used to be one of the more local marathons for me but that's no longer the case. It required a long drive from Dublin home to Kerry on Friday evening, another drive to Castlecove on Saturday and a very early start on Sunday to get to Cork in time. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours in the car just to get there!

I had put my name down as one of the pacers, volunteering for any spot from 3:15 upwards, but somehow thing got messed up along the way and five days before the race I had resigned myself to not running it this year. I'm very grateful to Gina form the organising team to come up with a late number for me.

When I had finally made it to the start line, against all odds it felt, I wasn't 100% sure how this would go, with a few issues from the last couple of months clearly having an impact on training and subsequent form. I was actually slightly relieved not to carry a 3:15 pacer balloon because I wasn't 100% confident I would be able to run 3:15 - on the other hand, I have never taken that balloon with 100% confidence in the past either and I've always managed to come through. However, I lined up several lines behind the 3:15 pacers on purpose, to not to block anyone trying to run with that group in case I wasn't able to get up to speed myself.

Very fresh at mile 3. Photo by John Desmond
At least that proved to be unfounded, as soon as we started running I was off at just that pace and I settled within. I had tried to run with a pace group once before, the 3-hour group in Manchester last year, and found it much too crowded, so it was a relief to find a lot more space around me here in Cork. The first few miles felt easy enough, though I was surprised to see an average pace of as fast as 7:15 on the clock - pacer Chris's Garmin was at 7:22 at the time. It goes to show how inaccurate GPS watches can be.

Against the forecast it was a warm, sunny morning, with the temperature much higher than anticipated. In addition to that, it was quite windy - and we had the wind at our back in the early miles. It did mean that those miles felt surprisingly easy but it also meant I could not get any convective cooling and I felt quite hot at times  - so hot that I eventually took off my top for a bit to cool down, though as soon as I did that a cloud appeared - how typical is that - and the shirt went back on soon enough.

Over the years of running the Cork marathon I have always felt the climb out of the tunnel was the hardest climb of the day but with only 8 miles on the legs it always feels perfectly doable. It was when we got out of there that we felt the headwind for the first time and I knew this would become a problem sooner or later - there were an awful lot of miles against that headwind in front of us.

Mile 7, still easy. Photo by Chris Grayson.
My effort levels seemed to oscillate a lot. At times the pace felt so pretty damn hard that I wondered if I was about to drop off the group and 2 minute later I seemed to be jogging along at a sedate pace. Around the 10 or 11 mile mark I think I gradually drifted ahead of the pacers, not on purpose. A look at my watch showed that I was still doing the same pace but somehow there were three of us (Hi Kevin! Hi Stephen!) with a bit of a gap ahead of the rest of the pace group. I decided to just keep going at the same effort level, which really was the same pace as the 3:15 group and we can never have been more than a few seconds ahead of those balloons. We reached the halfway mark in 1:37, which is exactly when I would have wanted to get there for a 3:15 marathon - so far so good. There were about 2 more nice and slightly sheltered miles left on the old railway line, until we got back into town where the real work was about to start.

Once you pass the noise and excitement of the third relay station and the gathered crowds behind, the hilly section starts. With the move to Sunday, they had to make a few changes to that section of the course. There had been some talk of this making the marathon harder, which I had dismissed to be honest; I did not expect it to make any real difference. Be it that my legs were not in the same shape as usual or that the additional dips and drags really made a difference but after a few miles of constant ups and downs I started to falter a bit. The hills were just never ending, and each one started to feel steeper than the previous one. I think the real problem was the relentless headwind, with the section from 11 to 22 miles heading steadily westwards and each step into that direction just took that extra bit of energy to fight the wind.

I kept going, and somehow I was still ahead of the pacers, though my 2 running buddies had gotten separated at some point. Things came finally crashing down around mile 21 when my legs just wouldn't get me up another one of those blasted hill, and, more worryingly, I could sense the early signs of a cramp building up. "Come on Thomas", one of the pacers shouted. (expletive deleted) came the answer. "Come on Thomas", the other pacer shouted.  (expletive deleted) came the answer.  "Come on Thomas", someone shouted. (expletive deleted) came the answer once more, and then they were gone, over the hills and far away. Not good.

At first I completely lost heart and felt like jogging it in easily until the end but once I had finally gotten over that hill I recovered once more and cranked up the pace a bit. By that point there was only one more climb left, which was another struggle, but then we finally turned right and right again and from then on it felt remarkably and substantially easier again. I passed Richie from BMOH, ran with him and his club mate (one of my earlier companions) for a bit but eventually took off again, feeling sufficiently recovered to get back on pace and try to salvage a little bit over the last 4 miles.

Mile 24. Recovered from the worst.
Photo by Joe Murphy
I didn't feel any tailwind but there is no doubt it was there and there is no doubt that it helped. Looking at the mile splits now, only miles 21 and 22 stand out as 7:50 miles, after that I got right back on 7:20 pace. Going faster wasn't really an option, there was a limit to what I dared to do, so the balloons never came any closer but at least they stopped moving away. I passed quite a few runners along that stretch, looking at the results now I moved from 146th at the halfway point to 106th, which seems extraordinary seeing as I didn't exactly have a stellar second half myself. Looking back now the last few miles seemed to pass reasonably quickly though I sure would have denied that notion at the time. A few new extra turns left me a bit disoriented at the end and I wasn't sure how far away I was from the finish until I finally spotted it.

I passed the line in 3:15:14 on my own watch, 3:15:07 official time, so not a total disaster. I wonder what would have happened if I had carried a 3:15 pacer balloon today; I do suspect that it would have given me enough incentive to push just that tiny little bit harder to make sure I was home in time, though we will never know for sure. As for how I felt over the last few miles, I think I could have gone a good bit further, but not faster. This was a training run but it sure felt tougher than that from miles 18 to 22, though the effort got back to more appropriate levels on the home stretch (yes, I know about the wind direction). There are positive signs as well: the HR was surprisingly low at 154, which compares exceptionally well to 157 for a 3:26 marathon in Killarney 3 weeks earlier, so at least my cardiovascular system is in very good shape. My leg muscles on the other hand could do with some improvement, they are definitely still feeling the aftermath of my 2016 misfortunes.

I could not hang around at all afterwards and had to get away straight away - I had to get back to Castlecove where I had a wedding to attend. No, not mine.

1 Jun
6.2 miles, 49:21, 8:01 pace, HR 144
2 Jun
7 miles, 58:58, 8:25 pace, HR 135
3 Jun
4 miles, 33:28, 8:22 pace, HR 137
4 Jun
Cork City marathon
   3:15:14, 7:27 pace, HR 154
5 Jun
5.8 miles, 55:29, 9:34 pace, HR 132
   Staigue Fort, very hilly for a recovery run

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Taper Practise

I got a surprise the other day when I checked my resting HR. It used to be 41/42 back home in Kerry but shot up to 50 when I moved to Dublin, which just goes to show how stressful such a move can be. It gradually decreased again and now has reached the low point of 40 - lower than the Kerry number. However, my running HR for any given pace is usually still 5-10 beats higher than it used to be, so there is no direct correlation to resting HR. Still, I'll take that. At the very least it's a sign that the worst of the stress is behind me.

I'm slowly settling into a rhythm as far as my week is concerned. I cycle into work on Monday morning with office gear for 4 days and then commute by running until Thursday evening when I cycle back home, bringing back all the office gear in a big backpack. On Friday I will usually drive into work and the set off to Kerry for the weekend. That way I get a decent number of miles without having to get up a stupid o'clock and I'm not wasting 2.5 hours a day on the bus either.

The legs felt surprisingly good on my run back home on Monday, which was great after a rather tough weekend. Unfortunately that was just temporary and I was dismayed to find two concrete pillars attached to my hamstrings on Tuesday, though things gradually improved after a few miles.

I was just about to fall asleep Tuesday night when it occurred to me that maybe I should check what it says in the training schedule instead of just jogging to work the next morning. Indeed, the word "taper workout" stared back at me, which rang a faint bell somewhere in the back of my mind; however, while I clearly remembered having done a taper workout before on a few occasions, the details completely escaped me. Old age senility is a bitch. Eventually I managed to dig out an old email stating "4 miles at HR 161, 15 minutes easy, 3 x 880s every 5 minutes". I fell asleep with that plan implanted in my mind.

Things turned out to be a little bit trickier than expected. The initial 4 miles included a 200 feet towards the promenade and the HR would only go so high, though I found myself with the opposite problem on the next 2 miles when the HR seemed to be around 164 every time I checked, no matter how much I tried to relax the effort. I did manage the easy section, alright, though I probably could have picked a better route for the first of the 880s as it included crossing a busy road and I can only assume that it took my focus off running fast, otherwise I can't explain why it was so much slower than the others, which were done inside a park. Things still didn't go completely smoothly there either, first by me getting confused on the second 880 (I told you about the senility, didn't I) and stopping too early and then a group of 3 ladies walking their dogs using extensible leads which formed a formidable ever-expanding obstacle just as I was approaching at close to full tilt. However, I got through it all, though I was close to collapse at the end.

I took it VERY easy on the commute home, though a very strong headwind along the promenade made this rather tricky. Watching the kite surfers do their stuff made that worthwhile, though - very cool!

29 May
5.5 miles, 43:55, 7:59 pace, HR 144
30 May
am: 5.5 miles, 42:39, 7:45 pace, HR 147
pm: 5.5 miles, 43:25, 7:53 pace, HR 147
31 May
am: 9 miles, 1:10:40, 7:51 pace, HR 150
   incl. 4 miles @ 7:03 pace (HR 154), 3 x half mile @ 6:38, 6:14, 6:13
pm: 5.5 miles, 47:03, 8:31 pace, HR 142

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tired

Training for a big race is always a bit of a balancing act, trying to train as hard as you can while staying on the right side of recovery. I have learned the hard way that the saying that it's better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained is indeed true, but you still need to push the envelope from time to time.

That's exactly what I did the last few days. The legs were a bit heavy on Thursday but felt surprisingly good on Friday morning, so I reverted to the usual Fast Friday routine of a few faster miles, though nothing outrageously fast. It's always a good idea to keep an eye on the HR for those kind of runs; my normal limit is 155. However, Friday was a really muggy day and I could clearly feel the temperature rising as the miles ticked by when the humidity was already at saturation point. The legs felt good, so for once I ignored the HR and kept going, which resulted in a few not terribly fast miles but a rather high HR, though I honestly felt that this was no indication of my actual effort.

Whatever the excuses, a workout on Saturday will mercilessly reveal if you overcooked yourself the day before. In my case I had one of MC's famous pickup workouts on the program, with half miles at a fast, relaxed effort broken up by miles at a steady pace. The crucial bit about those workouts, and one I found hard to get my head around initially, is that the slower miles are actually the more important part. You're not exactly hanging around and the pace needs to be maintained, which teaches the body to recover under stress. If you're too exhausted to keep up the pace at the slower miles then you're finished. Don't cheat with a dead slow mile to hit the faster pace again on the next interval.

Anyway, I had a very big target window for my paces, 5:50-6:40 for the fast splits and 7:20-8:00 for the slow ones but thankfully I'm getting better at judging the effort purely by feel rather than the watch, so I just worked on running fast but relaxed on the fast splits and faster than jogging pace on the slower ones.

6:27, 6:24, 6:25, 6:16, 6:24, 6:27, 6:27 pace for the fast bits, steady pace 7:40-7:45 throughout. The HR was 161 for the first interval and 164/165 for all the other ones.

In the end I was pleasantly surprised by a few things: the effort level was never an issue, I could have done more but was under strict instructions not to exceed 7. The pace and especially the HR was incredibly stable, that's the best workout I've ever done in that regard. And the fact that I had at least one more interval left was great, that's how you should always feel at the end of a workout. My right calf felt a bit tender during the cool down as well as later that day, so it's good that I ended it then rather than pushing on further.

I had another feat of endurance that evening, attending the Guns n' Roses concert in Slane. I ended up on my feet for over 6 hours, with plenty of jumping around and quite a few miles of walking to and from the venue. But the old guys on stage were great, just as good a concert as the last time I'd seen them, about 25 years ago, well worth it.

I came home at 2 am (pretty good going, actually) and got a few hours of sleep but today, Sunday, I'm tired. To what extend that's due to the training, the concert or the lack of sleep is open to debate but 8 miles at snails pace was all I did today. You still try to stay on the right side of the recovery curve.

26 May
8.5 miles, 1:04:11, 7:33 pace, HR 153
   incl. 6 miles @ 7:21 (HR 160)
27 May
13 miles, 1:39:12, 7:37 pace, HR 152
   6:27, 6:24, 6:25, 6:16, 6:24, 6:27, 6:27 pace 800s, 7:40-7:45 miles "recovery"
28 May
8 miles, 1:08:07, 8:30 pace, HR 138

Friday, May 26, 2017

There is ever so slightly contradicting feedback this week. The numbers aren’t particularly great, my HR is far higher for any given run than I would like and higher than I would estimate from pure effort. On the other hand, I’m starting to feel really good again; at least on most days. My Achilles troubles have finally gone away and the knee is barely noticeable anymore, so I’m definitely back in business. There is nothing I can do about the lost training. At least I was still able to run every day but a few workouts had to be binned.

I’m starting to settle into a routine. I somehow managed to squeeze my bike into my tiny car when driving back from Kerry on Sunday, so now I have an extra option for the commute. What I ended up doing was to cycle in on Monday morning with a big backpack containing office clothes for the whole week and run most of the other times.

Tuesday morning went particularly well, I felt really good but still took it easy and was flabbergasted when I looked at the numbers afterwards and saw 7:35 pace. It was the downhill part of the commute but even so I would have thought the effort was closer to 8-minute pace.

I had an extra run on Tuesday evening when Anto, he of Donadea fame, invited me to a run in the Wicklow mountains, He brought me towards Lough Dan where we proceeded to run through some rather rough territory – it wasn’t even trail running half the time, just plain bushwhacking, and I still have the scratches form the gorse to prove it. That had been my second run that day after the  morning commute and I was suitably tired afterwards. Therefore I cut Wednesday’s mid-week long run down by a couple of miles to a mere 13, taking the scenic route back home from work. That will work in future for the times I need a bit more than 5.5 miles at a time.

It didn’t come as much of a surprise that the legs were a bit heavy on Thursday morning, so I took it rather easy on the commute to work – and on the way home again, though the headwind and the uphill miles made that a bit of a struggle

I’m racking up the miles again, not as much as I used to in the past, but a lot more than earlier in the year when I was still recovering from my overtraining. I can tell a massive difference between what I was like before Albi and now. The move to Dublin and the added stress that came with it did some damage but I’m over the worst now.

22 May
5.5 miles, 43:24, 7:53 pace, HR 145
23 May
am: 5.5 miles, 41:44, 7:35 pace, HR 146
pm: 7.6 miles, 1:39:18, 13:02 pace, off-road
24 May
13 miles, 1:44:41, 8:03 pace, HR 147
25 May
am: 5.5 miles, 44:03, 8:00 pace, HR 144
pm: 5.5 miles, 46:23, 8:26 pace, HR 145

Sunday, May 21, 2017

RIP Curley

I was totally shocked and saddened to hear those awful news. I regarded Mike Curley Cunningham as a friend of mine. He was a fantastic running who represented Ireland on the international stage, but much more so he was a friendly and always supportive human being, a true gent.

I have come second to Mike in more than one race, and it was never a close call. But he never failed to compliment me on my own race, no matter how much slower it had been than his. I will miss him.

After that, my own running doesn't even seem worthwhile mentioning, but I'll post details anyway just for sake of this being a running blog.

Despite expecting a few more easy days, the coach gave me a workout on Friday, 2 x 4 times 1-1.5 miles at faster than marathon pace interspersed by a mile at 40 seconds slower. The loop behind the in-laws' house, seemingly known by everyone as the St. Raphaela's loop after the nearby school, officially named Clonmore Park (not that I have every heard that name mentioned), is very well suited to such a workout. 3 laps constitute 1.4 miles, and that was my workout segment, with 2 laps for the slower segments. It saved me from having to check the watch to see how much was left, I only had to count to 3, though that was a challenge in itself at times. During the first segment I tried to pace myself off the HR (supposed to be 165-168) but that was slow to come up so I ended up running a bit faster than expected even though the HR was lower. The "recovery"segments in those workouts aren't much for recovery but they help psychologically as the end of a segment is never too far away.

Despite the fast start I got on just fine and braced myself for the full 4 segments when halfway through the third I seemed to have run out of energy. I kept that segment going until the end, waiting to see if I would recover, but didn't, so I called it a day. That's why the coach prescribes a 2-4 intervals, it's up to me to see what number would be best (it tends to be the middle one). I was tired afterwards but happy with how the run had gone,

I was back in Kerry for the weekend and managed to catch up with my old route along the lake, something I had missed more than I had realised. I did 15 miles on Saturday on whatever pace came easily. The legs were fine but I could sense that if I ran any faster they would not be. Even so, after 13 miles I pretty much had enough and dragged my backside back home.

Sunday's 8 miles, just the run I used to run all the time, was on fresher legs, even with the blustery wind,

I'll run the next few miles for you, Curley.

19 May
9 miles, 1:07:47, 7:31 pace, HR 155
   6:45 (161), 7:29, 6:55 (165), 7:28, 6:52 (167)
20 May
15 miles, 2:03:05, 8:12 pace, HR 144
21 May
8 miles, 1:03:20, 7:55 pace, HR 143

Thursday, May 18, 2017

After The Marathon

Recovery from Saturday’s marathon has gone pretty well. Initially I thought I had aggravated my leg injury; Niamh noticed me limping on Sunday and a work colleague did the same on Monday, though I had been aware of it on neither occasion. However, it then improved remarkably quickly, by Tuesday it was much better already, as good as it had had been at any time the days before the marathon, and by Thursday morning everything is down to “barely noticeable”,  around 1/10 or 2/10. I’ll take that.

Muscle soreness was never a factor, from that point of view it seems to have gone particularly well. Taking it very easy this week sure helped, no doubles or anything longer than one commute at a time. On Wednesday morning I played around with the pace a little bit, going up to marathon effort once I hit the seafront (probably a bit too fast) and another pickup through one of the parks towards the end of the commute. On both occasions I felt really good, though the HR spiked much higher than I would have liked.

One thing I have noticed since moving to Dublin is that I find it very hard to relax while on the run. The leg definitely had a major impact on that, it’s hard to run relaxed when one leg keeps sending signals that something is wrong. Running in unfamiliar surroundings hasn’t helped, and running with a backpack definitely has not helped. However, on Wednesday, especially during the pickups, I finally managed to get into a groove and relax a lot more than at any other time since moving here. Maybe things are finally settling down.

I'm also trying to get as organised as possible, bringing several days' worth of clothing into the office at a time so I can run unencumbered on the other days.

Anyway, the legs felt a bit lethargic again on Thursday, with the triple-whammy of marathon, backpack and faster miles the day before clearly not helping. I’ll be taking it easy for a bit longer, I guess.
15 May
3 miles, 25:35, 8:31 pace, HR 139
16 May
5.5 miles, 45:54, 8:20 pace, HR 145
17 May
5.55 miles, 42:55, 7:43 pace, HR 149
18 May
5.5 miles, 44:56, 8:10 pace, HR 147

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The One Legged Marathon

When I initially earmarked the Lakes of Killarney marathon in my race calendar I obviously assumed it would be my most local race of the year. As things turned out I had to drive across the country instead, though since I wanted to see my family I didn't make that journey purely for the sake of the marathon.

Training had been going very well until about 2 weeks ago when my right leg started to act up, with an issue in the knee which then moved down into the Achilles. However, it never particularly hurt and on the morning of the marathon it felt better than any previous day, virtually unnoticeable, so I was confident I would get through the day in one piece. The planned pace was reasonable at 7:40 (roughly a 3:22 marathon) but I was always going to adapt depending how I felt.

I started out with Chris and Fozzy who were manning the 3:30 pace group and stuck with them for a mile. On the first downhill I started drifting ahead naturally and before I even knew it I was already well ahead of the pace group, so I just kept going.

The course consisted of 3 laps through the Demesne of Killarney National Park, a stunningly beautiful setting. In previous years we had always been blessed with beautiful sunshine but today was rainy and windy, though in the woods the wind didn't bother us and even the rain felt less noticeable in those surroundings. On the other hand it's a rather hilly course with a rather big climb at the start of each loop and a very rolling section for about 2 miles behind Ross Castle.

The first loop passed by rather quickly. My leg felt fine even though the right calf was rather stiff, which did affect my stride a bit. Once I started the second loop, however, trouble started immediately at the big climb. My calf just would not cooperate, I could not put my toes down and ended up hobbling up the hill in a very awkward way, very slowly but also very exhausting. I lost 2 places and had to watch them pull away as if I was standing still (what wasn't all that far away from the truth). I knew I was in trouble, with 2 roller sections and one more big hill climb yet to come.

Running on the flat was still fine, though. I was alse to keep going at 7:40 pace, or at least close, without too much bother but my right leg just wasn't right. It felt like I could not produce any power, it was just standing there, moving further purely by momentum and it was the left leg that kept propelling me forward on its own. The roller section was as tough as expected, with me getting slower with each and every hill and exhaustion starting to become a real factor.

Once I had left that section behind I was still moving somewhat ok, though when Dolores Duffy caught up she stormed past like a rocket, once more making me feel like standing still.

I knew the last loop would be tough. I struggled badly up the hill, slowing down to 10-minute pace yet requiring an effort that felt like sprinting. The subsequent downhill was purely for recovery and the road to Ross castle seemed to have drawn out considerably since the last time. Mind, I wasn't looking forward to reaching the end of that section because the rollers would be really tough. So it proved. After one climb I actually turned round, relieved to see that there had been nobody behind me to witness the pathetic shuffle I had just produced.

Again, the section seemed to have gotten longer than last time. However, when I emerged I spotted a white top ahead of me, and from the way he was moving he clearly was another marathon runner on the last lap, not one of the many lapped runners. I actually must have gotten closer to him over the last few miles, despite my own troubles (I was surprised that nobody had passed me since Dolores on mile 16). Seeing him was good news, it gave me a target to chase for the last 3 miles instead of feeling sorry for myself on my shuffle back home. On the flats I was still able to keep going under 8-minute pace, though every time we got to even the tiniest of hills I slowed down dramatically, so I never got any closer to my target. Nevertheless, he pulled me towards the finish line which I reached in 3:26:01.

I could claim I had just jogged around at an easy effort, which would be perfectly believable, but unfortunately that's not how it happened. I felt exhausted at the end and totally depleted. I commandeered a coke bottle and emptied it and must have eaten half my body weight in sandwiches and bananas. I didn't hang around, though, because I quickly started getting cold in the rain, so I headed back towards the car. My right leg was rather sore, even when walking, which wasn't good, though a few hours later it was much better again,

I went out for a very short and easy run on Sunday morning. By that point I could walk around just fine, but Niamh noticed that I was limping a bit (I had not noticed). Running felt odd, with a very tight calf muscle that put me off my stride. There is actually no muscle soreness from the marathon as such, just that injured calf. We've chucked out the training schedule. I'm having a very easy week.

11 May
am: 5.5 miles, 43:02, 7:49 pace, HR 146
pm: 5.5 miles, 43:54, 7:58 pace, HR 146
12 May
4 miles, 32:52, 8:13 pace, HR 145
13 May
Lakes of Killarney marathon, 3:26:01, 12th place
14 May
3 miles, 26:49, 8:56 pace, HR 135

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Adapting

After turning my life upside down with my move to Dublin, it will take time to settle into a new routine and work out things until everything is running smoothly again. As stated in my last post, I initially struggled to keep my training going, between the unfamiliar roads and the heavy traffic and my reduced time due to the unexpectedly long commute, but I'm starting to figure things out.

After spending yet another 90 minutes on the commute back home on Monday evening (and then being too tired for an evening run) I decided to make some immediate changes. On Tuesday morning I packed everything I needed into a backpack and ran to work instead. This had some immediate benefits: no more frustration while waiting for the bus and being stuck in traffic, and I didn't have to get up at 5:30 in order to run before work any more. That immediately gave me over 2 extra hours of my day: a total win!

It's not all entirely straightforward. My backpack is basically unsuited to running (it's not a running backpack), it's way too big and it bounces like mad due to the lack of chest straps. It really does put me off my stride, I feel uncoordinated and my HR is all over the place. Not ideal. I actually do own a running backpack but that's in Kerry at the moment. However, for next week I'm planning on bringing one week's worth of clothing into work on Monday, so I only have to use the backpack on Monday morning and Friday evening and can run unencumbered for the rest of time.

It's 5.5 miles from home to work, which gives me 11 miles a day, which is plenty. However, running no more than 5.5 miles in one go won't do in preparation for a 24 hours race, so on Wednesday morning I set off earlier, dropped the backpack off at work and immediately set off again to the nearest park for another 5.5 miles, this time unencumbered, which felt a lot nicer. I still didn't quite get as many miles as planned because everything took a bit longer than estimated - I will figure it out eventually.

The last couple of weeks I have been troubled by some niggles in my right Achilles and knee. Undoubtedly those two issues are closely related. The Achilles seemed to calm down by the weekend only for the knee to act up again. It's on the inside of the leg, about 2 inches below the knee cap. When I googled it I came across "pes anserine bursitis" a lot, which sounded a bit scary, especially with the long recommended rest - the Belfast race would be over by the time I'm back running. Fortunately things have improved again this week and while I can still feel "something" in both areas, it's more a bit of stiffness than proper pain, and definitely getting better. My worry is that driving home will aggravate it again, as prolonged periods of sitting down seems to particularly bad - I'll have to wait and see.

Oh, and congratulations to Kathryn Shaw for winning the free copy of the book I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. It's on its way.
8 May
9 miles, 1:13:35, 8:10 pace, HR 141
9 May
am: 5.5 miles, 42:27, 7:43 pace, HR 149
pm: 5.5 miles, 45:45, 8:19 pace, HR 146
10 May
am: 11 miles, 1:26:31, 7:51 pace, HR 148
pm: 5.5 miles, 44:20, 8:03 pace, HR 148

Sunday, May 07, 2017

My Achilles Heel

I might not be a Greek demigod but I do share a weakness with one of Old Homer's finest. My right Achilles has a tendency to act up every now and again.

To be fair, it's been 4 years since the latest flare up, so I certainly can't complain too loudly. But complain I did, eventually, whining to my coach. He identified the problem not as tendinitis but an issue at the point where the tendon connects with the calf muscle. Most interestingly, the prescribed cure was not rest but to keep on training; exercise being more beneficial than idleness - something that I have learned time and time again to be true (with one exception in the last 10 years).

Anyway, my normal runs were manageable. The Achilles did hurt a little bit but it was definitely manageable. What it did hamper was my workout on Friday when I tried my usual few miles at a faster effort. The Achilles started to hurt as soon as I got above a certain threshold and I very quickly learned that forcing the issue was not on the cards, so I just kept the effort at a level where it all was still somewhat okay. Interestingly, looking at the data afterwards showed that I managed to go slightly faster as the run went on, from 7:30 pace initially to 7:13 on the 7th miles, with an average of 7:22. That was significantly slower than last week but what can you do.

Saturday was more telling, though. Following the advice that the long run was still on the cards, I combined the run with a tour through my new South Dublin neighbourhood, but never straying too far away from home in case the Achilles started acting up. What I found was that the Achilles was much better already, thank Goodness, that South Dublin is very hilly and that I cannot afford a house in the immediate vicinity (a lottery win being my only hope). I still have a bit of an issue with my right knee, which has felt a bit stiff ever since Longford, but as far as I can tell that seems to be on the mend as well.

After 5 days in Dublin I can state a couple of things. First, commuting by bus sucks. I actually live pretty much the same distance from work as I did in Kerry but instead of 10 minutes it's taking me an hour. I'm trying to get my bike to Dublin and I'm playing with the idea of running to work but I need to get organised first and a lot of the things I need for that are still in Kerry.

Secondly, running on Dublin roads is far less enjoyable than running on the quiet country roads near Caragh Lake. One glaringly obvious thing is my much higher HR the last few days compared to previous weeks, and I'm pretty sure the fact that my brain can't switch off in these new surrounding while I'm pounding the roads is a very real factor. It may improve as I get used to it but at the moment it's either sharing the road with far more cars than I'd like or running circles in a park, which does get mind numbing very quickly. Oh, and if you have some secret tips on how best to run here (I'm not driving to Phoenix Park for my runs - or anywhere else for that matter), I'd appreciate your input.

There are definite upside to living here as well, though. Last night's Iron Maiden concert was a 20 minute drive away rather than a 4 hour trip as it would have been otherwise. I certainly did appreciate that. And it did remind me of my last Maiden concert - in Vienna, 1993. Great stuff.

4 May
am: 7 miles, 1:01:10, 8:44 pace, HR 134
pm: 5 miles, 38:52, 7:46 pace, HR 145
5 May
10 miles, 1:17:43, 7:46 pace, HR 149
   incl. 7 @ 7:22 pace (HR 154)
6 May
18 miles, 2:23:50, 7:59 pace, HR 147
7 May
am: 8+ miles, 1:04:24, 8:00 pace, HR 144
pm: 5 miles, 37:53, 7:34 pace, HR 145

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A New Beginning

In my ideal world I can run as much as I want without any intrusion from the outside world. Alas, this is not my ideal world and real life does have a habit of rearing its head from time to time. Balancing my running life in such a way that it doesn't interfere with work or family is one of the things I had to learn - I like to think I'm pretty good at it.

Sometimes, however, things happen on a grander scale just to be glossed over. Last Friday, after over 13 years, I walked out of the office in Killorglin for the last time, wondering if I was utterly foolish to leave such a save job behind to look at the greener grass on the other side. I spent the weekend at home with the family and on Tuesday loaded up my little car and drove to Dublin. I'm starting my new job on Thursday.

From a running point of view, the timing is less than ideal, with the inevitable stress that comes with such a big change unlikely to be helpful in my preparations for a World Championship. On the other hand this was such an exciting opportunity after years of stagnation in the same job without much hope for promotion that I just could not let it pass. I'll just have to adapt to the new circumstances and make the best of it.

Running hasn't gone all that well this week, pretty much the first time I can say that since this training cycle began. On Monday I actually felt pretty good but the numbers were rather unimpressive. On Tuesday I felt like the legs were stuck in mud but the numbers were excellent, as good as I have seen all year. On Wednesday morning, now in Dublin, I posted the worst figures in months! I'm not sure what's to blame, the long drive to Dublin maybe, but I've done that journey plenty of times before. The hilly course, the wind, the stress of the move, all of the above?

I went out for a second time that day, for a short run just before dinner. The figures looked much better but the run itself was awful. I felt dehydrated and low on blood sugar - I need to get used to running doubles, I think.

Well, the move was bound to have some impact. I need to see how I feel and adjust accordingly. The worst thing I could do now is push too hard and waste all that great base training I have done so far.

1 May
8 miles, 1:03:45, 7:58 pace, HR 140
2 May
8 miles, 1:04:39, 8:04 pace, HR 135
3 May
am:6 miles, 48:56, 8:09 pace, HR 145
pm:5 miles, 39:37, 7:55 pace, HR 142

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lessons In Recovery

It's one of MC's favourite sayings, that how you recover from a workout says more about your conditioning than how the workout went.

My workout was the Longford ultra. It had gone very well, much better than expected. Now I had to recover from it.

Cute!
I launched into my standard tried and tested recovery protocol. The day after the ultra I hobbled through 4 uncomfortable miles when I would have preferred to wrap myself in cotton wool, but that's the tried and tested part of the recovery program. Gentle exercise significantly speeds up recovery compared to total rest, as counter-intuitive as it may sound at first.

I kept taking it very easy for several more days, which of course included skipping the weekly mountain run. The legs felt better with each day but I could still sense some fatigue in the quads, which is a bit strange because during the ultra itself it was primarily the hamstrings that were aching. On Friday I felt sufficiently brave to launch into another workout, the usual Fast Friday 7 miles with the HR close to 155, though I was prepared to pull the plug any time, depending how the legs felt.

Well, as it turns out, the legs felt much better than anticipated. I have never managed to surprise the coach with a workout, until now that is. Even he did not expect me to cruise through those mile the way I did, though in all honesty I was even more surprised to post better numbers than 2 and 3 weeks ago.

Turns out, though, it wasn't all as rosy as it looked at first. Saturday was the second part of the back-to-back workout. Nine easy miles followed by 6 at 7:15 pace, or a little bit faster if I felt like it. It looked easy enough, that's slower and for a shorter distance than Friday's fast part, but once I started the workout I could immediately sense that the legs were compromised. If you've heard about the central governor theory, I felt it today as the CG left me with a very limited number of muscle fibres to work with. As hard as I tried, 7:21 pace was as good as it got and I only managed to elevate my HR to 160 on uphill sections, otherwise the legs just would not respond no matter how hard I tried. That's the thing with those back-to-back workouts, they mercilessly show up deficient recovery, so it's back to another week of easy running.

24 Apr
5 miles, 42:35, 8:31 pace, HR 136
25 Apr
5 miles, 42:20, 8:28 pace, HR 133
26 Apr
7 miles, 56:51, 8:07 pace, HR 136
27 Apr
7 miles, 54:53, 7:50 pace, HR 144
28 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:07, 7:18 pace, HR 150
   incl.7 @ 7:04 (HR 153)
29 Apr
15 miles, 1:55:38, 7:42 pace, HR 147
   incl.6 @ 7:21 (HR 156)
30 Apr
7 miles, 58:28, 8:21 pace, HR 136

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review - The Endurance Diet

I have read several books by prolific writer Matt Fitzgerald before. That’s not surprising – if you’re a runner who reads a lot about running you are basically guaranteed to have come across one or more of his books before. I find him a terrific writer – he has the ability to make complicated subjects sound simple. On the other hand, I do have doubts about the content of at least some of his older books. When I bought “Brain Training For Runners” I was initially very keen but eventually changed my mind – and from what I’ve heard, so has Matt.
Never mind, the previous book he wrote about nutrition, “Racing Weight”, is very good and I do recommend it. You can tell his background as a professional nutritionist is helping him remain on solid ground, so I was immediately intrigued when I heard that he had published another book about nutrition:  “The Endurance Diet”. I was even more intrigued when I was offered a free copy for a review, and since they immediately agreed that I would be able to post a review even if I didn’t like it, I accepted.
Matt has spent a considerable amount of time interviewing, and living in close proximity to, several elite endurance athletes, ranging from runners and cross country skiers to cyclists and rowers and several other disciplines as well. He says he has identified 5 core habits that their nutrition has in common, which form the basis of the book:


1.      Eat Everything
2.      Eat Quality
3.      Eat Carb-Centered
4.      Eat Enough
5.      Eat Individually


Eat Everything means they eat a varied diet, including items from each of 6 different categories: vegetables; fruits; nuts, seeds and healthy oils; unprocessed meat (includes eggs) and seafood; whole grains; dairy.


Eat Quality speaks for itself. However, it is worth pointing out that even elite athletes do allow themselves small amounts of less healthy treats every now and again, which helps to remain on message for the majority of time. Note that “small amounts” is the operative phrase here.


Eat Carb-Centered very much goes against the recent wave of low-carb diets that seem to become increasingly popular. He points out that the Kenyans, possibly the most successful group of endurance athletes in history, are on a diet that is extremely high in carbs, and would laugh in the face of anyone arguing that carbs aren’t good for them.


Eat Enough is concerned about the amount of calories required to sustain the training that is necessary to perform at elite level. Of course this dismisses every single calorie-restrictive diet ever, and he also speaks out against calorie counting. On the other hand, according to Matt elites seem to know when they have had enough and often leave food on the plate, untouched, when they are saturated. Apparently they have a very finely tuned appetite that lets them know when they have eaten the exactly right amount of food.


Eat Individually goes somewhat against the grain of all other habits listed, in that elite athletes all vary their diets individually to their own needs and tastes, be it to wrap breakfast vegetables in meat (seriously!) or just their own version of otherwise standard dishes.


The chapters describing these habits are all very clear and very accessible. Much of it is common sense, which all too often is very much absent in dieting books, so that definitely speaks for Matt and his understanding of the subject matter.


I have to admit being slightly dubious about some of his points, though. I do know some athletes that perform at a very, very high level on low-carb diets, and I simply do not believe his assertion that this is only possible in disciplines like ultrarunning where the standard is not as high just yet, so elites can get away with a sub-optimal diet. In fact, I know a professional cyclist whose low-carb diet did not stop him from winning several medals in world championships.


There are also a few elite vegan athletes that are able to perform just fine, despite clearly not “eating everything”.


And I do get the feeling that the “Eat Individually” chapter is a bit of a cop-out; after going on about how elite athletes all eat extremely similarly he suddenly comes up with a fifth habit that seems to state the opposite, at least up to a point.


The last few chapters are a bit of a mix. I enjoyed the chapters with recipe suggestions and “Endurance superfoods” (after helpfully pointing out that “superfood” is nothing but a marketing term) but found the chapter about endurance training a bit pointless – it’s too short to provide much meaningful information and just doesn’t belong into a book primarily about nutrition in my view


His strongest point, I think, is the way in which his “diet” can be introduced in small steps, not requiring massive changes all at once, which greatly increases the chance of this approach actually working and sticking until it becomes a habit, unlike many fad diets. Nothing is restricted entirely and the odd unhealthy treat is positively encouraged, as a reward or a way to ensure that you remain on track for the rest of time – a very refreshing approach.


There is a lot of interesting information in this book and it is very well written. While I clearly do have reservations about some of the content (maybe it’s just the Doubting Thomas in me), the basic message I got from the book was to eat a diverse range of high quality food and not restrict calorie intake. Also, don't try to follow the latest fad or food hyped for alleged “endurance gains”; instead you should always opt for natural, unprocessed, healthy food and the potential endurance gains will be far greater. To support this approach, Matt also has a mobile app called “DQS” that can be used to track his “Diet Quality Score” (an idea introduced in “Racing Weight” and explained in detail in this new book as well), a simple way to track the quality of your diet, and certainly superior to calorie counting.

All in all I do think this a book you should read; read it with an open mind but remain sceptical at the same time - or is that just my own approach to just about everything?

---

For anyone interested in this book, I have been offered one copy to give away to one reader. Leave a comment stating your interest or contact me on twitter @tfbubendorfer until 7 May and I'll pick one winner at random.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I'm back! I'm back!

Let's start with a confession: I would not have gone to Longford if I had picked my own race. I would have gone to Connemara instead, a race very close to my heart. But I guess the coach preferred a race 6 miles shorter, thus requiring less recovery time. To be honest, it seems a lot more sensible. In the last 6 months I have done exactly one run of 17 miles and that's it for long runs. It seems extraordinary to even attempt an ultra on so little endurance training, even a (relatively) short one. Nevertheless, that's what I was in for.

Longford is a long way from Kerry. This better be worthwhile! To be honest, I didn't sleep well the night before. I was too nervous.

The plan was very simple, start out at 8-minute pace, or whatever felt easy and natural, and stick with it for as long as I reasonably can and then suffer until I'm done. I would re-assess at miles 15 and 23 how I felt and adjust accordingly, but that seemed a long way off at the start.

Aidan Hogan was there, which was great because it meant I would never have to worry about potentially winning this race, leaving me to run this as a training run, just as planned (I would have gotten into serious trouble with the coach had I raced a training run). He asked me what my plan was and didn't look too pleased. I guess he had hoped for some company but my pace was too slow for him to even consider.

Anyway, at 8:30 in the morning (ok, a bit later) we were off, together with the early marathon starters. Aidan and another runner stormed off at the front and I was left in third place, at first pursued by a few others but they slowed after a while and I knew I would have to run on my own for a long time. Two marathon runners passed me after a bit, one of them usually finishes closer to 4 hours so I have no idea why he felt the need to start at 7:30 pace, the other one slightly more sensible but I caught him later on as well, close to the half marathon mark.

The course consisted of 10 laps along the Royal Canal, each lap being about 5.2k, plus about 1k extra at the start. The run along the canal was very flat but there were three bumps along the way past some bridges, which I knew would grow with each lap. About 2k were tarmac, 1k was smooth but narrow single track and the rest double track, which was rather uneven and stony, which I didn't particularly like to be honest. On each lap I was looking forward to the tarmac section, and while the single track was nice and smooth, it did make overtaking bit tricky, and there would be a lot of overtaking today.

At various stages we were joined today by a 10k, a half-marathon and a full marathon, 700 runners in all apparently (that's amazing on the same weekend as Connemara and London!), and while the better runners of those races were obviously moving faster than me, most did not and I have no idea how many times I went past another runner but it could have been over 1000 times, all on a rather narrow course. On the plus side, it ensured I never felt lonely and there was always someone to chase - a welcome change to most other ultras. I do like the company of other runners!

Anyway, the pace I settled in was a bit faster than 8-minute pace, which initially worried me a bit. I did slow down a few times but every time I checked the watch I found I had unwittingly accelerated again, and soon enough I stopped looking at the watch and just ran by feel alone.

I did expect to suffer. I hoped I would get to halfway feeling good, which would still leave plenty of scope for suffering, and I hoped to be done in roughly 4:30. I also worried about cramping - surely running twice as far as your single longest training run, at pretty much the same pace, was almost guaranteed to bring on some cramps, going by past experience. On the other hand, a bit of suffering might be character-building, or at least I keep telling myself.

There was one minor incident after 3 laps when the 10k runners were assembling at their start line. Since the course is so narrow, it really required everyone to be careful with everyone else, especially when one large groups assembles on the path while other runners are already in the middle of their race. Actually, the other runners were all great, for all races. My problem came when one of the marshalls stepped out, right into my path. "Excuse me" - still stepping out. "Excuse Me!" - still stepping, and now he's getting uncomfortably close. "EXCUSE ME!" and bang, I bumped into him. I could not step aside because there was absolutely no room to do so, and I hadn't slowed down because I really had not expected him to fully block my path, especially with me shouting 3 warnings. Anyway, no harm done, though I did wonder how he possibly could not have seen or heard me!

That was as exciting as it got, really. I did notice 2 runners running less than 30 seconds behind me for over 20 miles, but when they accelerated and finally overtook me they turned out to be marathon runners from the early start, so I didn't lose my place in the ultra field.

At mile 15 I re-assessed and decided that I felt surprisingly good but accelerating was most likely a bad idea with so much race still left and I just kept going at the same pace.

I did the same at mile 24 or 25, a little bit later than planned but the miles were still ticking by so fast I had missed my cue. At that point my hamstrings were definitely tired and my hip flexors were starting to complain as well, but overall I was feeling a lot better than expected; before the race I had expected to be in a world of pain by that point. Instead my running form seemed still solid (as far as I could tell at least) and I was still moving at the same pace. I decided to try and keep going as I was, but without increasing the effort past a certain threshold, which realistically meant I would slow down a tad. That's ok. Aidan lapped me, moving at the same pace as the faster half-marathon runners, which was very impressive to say the least. He still looked totally comfortable going considerably faster than 7-minute pace well past the marathon distance. Afterwards he told me he finished with a sub-6 mile. Blimey!

Anyway, my own pace did drop just below 8-minute pace but I was well ahead of schedule and, most importantly, feeling so much better than expected I could hardly believe it. I passed the marathon mark in about 3:24, still very comfortable though at that point I definitely started tiring and it got a bit harder from here on. But with the finish in sight that wasn't much of an issue.

Right at the end of my last lap the microphone guy announced an ultra runner just finishing, which I obviously took to be me, until he said "number 7", which was not my number, and it was only then that I realised that I had almost completely caught up to the second runner who had headed off fast at the start, but finished maybe 2 or 3 seconds behind him. Honestly, had I known that I would have run just a tiny bit faster, not that it mattered. Both of us were so far behind Aidan that he had time to shower, change and eat, and he could probably have finished reading a book or paint a landscape to pass the time waiting for us.

So, I finished in third place (at least as far as I know, not having seen any official result), 32.85miles on the watch, in 4:16:40, which translates to 7:48 pace, a bit faster than expected, but feeling so much better than I thought I would. I was really pleased, not with the time, I didn't care about that, but with how well this had gone. I had no business to believe this would go so well, with my reduced training the last few months, but apparently I don't have to run 100 miles a week to get into some decent shape. Maybe it's muscle memory.

Anyway, now there's some time for recovery. But my confidence level has increased by an enormous amount, which is the main thing I take away from Longford.

Lap paces: 7:46, 7:45, 7:49, 7:42, 7:43, 7:33, 7:46, 7:56, 8:03, 8:03. I'm very happy with those numbers and how well they held up.

I'm an ultra runner again!

21 Apr
4 miles, 32:52, 8:13 pace, HR 135
22 Apr
Longford Royal Canal Ultra, 53k
4:16:40, 7:48 pace, HR 154
23 Apr
4 miles, 33:57, 8:29 pace, HR 141

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Plateau

In the early stages of the week I couldn't make up my mind if I was recovering properly from the mountain or not. The legs sure felt a lot better on Monday than they had on Sunday but for some reason the HR was a little bit higher even though the effort had felt easier. But the difference was so
small I didn't think any more about it - these things can be affected by all kinds of external factors and we're talking about very minor blips here.

Tuesday was similar, the legs felt pretty much fully recovered but the HR was just a tad higher than I would have wanted.

At that point I decided I was overthinking the whole thing. A HR difference of one single beat is nothing, that's a rounding error. I might have hit a bit of a plateau at the moment but this happens. I'm taking it a bit easier right now anyway.

I did feel up to another trip up the Windy Gap. I have a rather long run on schedule for Saturday, so one climb would have to do. The legs felt a bit funny starting out but once I hit the steep slopes I pushed the effort a bit and they responded immediately. The weather was quite nice again, I had a good view towards the Reeks and my new mate Carrauntoohil, and Windy Gap just being Gap, really.

And on Thursday it was back on the road again. There was no trace of fatigue in the legs but I made sure to take it very, very easy anyway, with my eyes firmly fixed on Saturday.
17 Apr
7 miles, 54:16, 7:45 pace, HR 144
18 Apr
7 miles, 54:10, 7:44 pace, HR 143
19 Apr
10.7 miles, 1:31:12, 8:31 pace, HR 148
   Windy Gap
20 Apr
7 miles, 54:55, 7:51 pace, HR 141

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Carauntoohil

I shouldn't have said that the curve is always pointing upwards I guess, because it did get a kink on Friday. Looks like I jinxed myself. Not that 7 miles at 7:06 pace is a particularly bad workout but with the HR stuck at 159 it wasn't quite what I wanted to see.

It had all started so well with me ticking off 6:50 miles while feeling exceptionally relaxed, until I turned sharply left twice and now had that wind right in my face! To make matters worse, the way the loop was shaped meant I had the wind at my back for about 2 miles and against my face closer to 4, which didn't do the average much good. Once I turned into the wind I found it next to impossible to get the HR down. I felt like I was crawling and I still had the HR alarm beeping relentlessly. I was doing about 7:20, which wasn't all that slow into a headwind but after the 6:50 miles it felt like almost standing still.

Ah well, so the numbers are worse than last week. How much that is due to the wind and how much to latent fatigue from the weekend or the Windy Gap I'm not entirely sure. What I do know is that I did something COMPLETELY different on Saturday.

You see, I have been living here for 13 year and I can see Carauntoohil right from my front door. However, to my eternal shame, I have never climbed it. I must have said something to Niamh because she bought me a voucher for a guided tour, which meant now I had to quit talking about it and go and do it instead. I guess that was the main reason why I had never gone up there before: having grown up in the mountains (different mountains altogether) I have way too much respect for them to go up there on my own on a first attempt, so it was always going to be a guided tour and it took Niamh to break the inertia and just go ahead and book something.

Originally I was planning on going on Friday but one look at the weather forecast earlier this week made me change it to Saturday. That made it worse for Niamh as she had to taxi the kids on a busy day all on her own but it was definitely the right choice. Friday was a miserable wet day without any views and Saturday turned out much better than I could have hoped for. We had some non-athletes in our group, so we took our sweet time. It meant 7 hours on my legs, which should actually be surprisingly good ultra training - a way of training that is definitely under-utilised, not just by me but most runners. Last year I spent a weekend in Wicklow soaking up Barry Murray's wisdom and I know he would have enthusiastically recommended it. MC was all for it as well. Anyway, the clouds all lifted when we got to the top and the views are just to die for (Caher, btw, looking by far the best) and I even had a good view at our house but just couldn't see them waving back.

It's definitely something I can warmly recommend and going with an extremely knowledgeable tour guide was great too. Not only did he point out all kinds of landmarks that I would have missed otherwise, he also told us plenty of stories from the mountains and we got a lot of education about how to treat the mountain with respect and how to minimise our impact, all delivered by a man who lives and breaths the mountains.

Anyway, Sunday's easy run was rather mundane in comparison, yet another easy 7 miler like I have done so many times before. The legs were definitely feeling the mountain and I would have sworn I was plodding ahead at a very slow pace. The numbers on the watch did surprise me when I got back home.

13 Apr
7 miles, 55:52, 7:59 pace, HR 136
14 Apr
10 miles, 1:13:08, 7:18 pace, HR 154
   incl 7 @ 7:06 (HR 159)
15 Apr
Carauntoohil, 7:30, 9.5 miles
16 Apr
7 miles, 53:48, 7:41 pace, HR 143